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Entries in Character Actor (1)

Saturday
Sep022017

R.I.P. ALAN CASSELL

For 40 years, one of the most sturdy and reliable character players in the Australian film sector was a Brit expat Alan Cassell. A master of the stage (he featured opposite Lauren Bacall in Sweet Bird of Youth for the Sydney Theatre Company) and a constant presence on local television (27 small-screen credits, including ‘Prime Minister John Gorton’ in the landmark mini-series, Vietnam), Cassell was a cherished cast member in many of the great films of the industry’s boom decades. On the occasion of his passing in Melbourne on August 30 at the age of 85, we honour the memorable moments of Cassell’s rich big screen career… 

CATHY’S CHILD (1979) and HARLEQUIN (1980)
Plying his trade on Australia’s west coast earned Cassell lead parts in two Perth-based productions - Edgar Metcalfe’s dramatic thriller, The Olive Tree (1975) and Terry O’Rourke’s bawdy soft-core romp Plugg (1975). Relocating to the eastern seaboard, roles in the TV series Matlock and a stand-out ‘crooked cop’ role in Bruce Beresford’s ensemble heist hit Money Movers (1978) signalled to the industry that Cassell was that great supporting player who could enliven any narrative.  Director Donald Crombie cast Cassell opposite Michele Fawdon in Cathy’s Child, a powerful drama about a mother determined to get her stolen daughter back; it would earn Fawdon the AFI Best Actress award and secure Cassell a Best Actor nomination (his only nod from the industry body). When casting the pricey genre thriller Harlequin, director Simon Wincer and producer Anthony Ginnane recognised Cassell’s worth and gave him a key role in the 1980 production opposite a cast of international imports including Broderick Crawford, Robert Powell and David Hemmings. (Pictured, right; a promotional lobby card for Cathy's Child, featuring Cassell and star Michele Fawdon)    

BREAKER MORANT (1980), THE CLUB (1980) and PUBERTY BLUES (1981).
On the set of Money Movers, Cassell had developed a strong professional rapport and lasting friendship with his director, Bruce Beresford. The filmmaker drew upon that mutual respect for three films that would come to represent Cassell’s most acclaimed character work. Beresford cast Cassell as pompous Brit officer Lord Kitchener, working against the actor’s working class roots, in the international hit, Breaker Morant. As football club administrator Gerry Cooper, Cassell gave perhaps his finest career performance in Beresford’s adaptation of David Williamson’s The Club, holding his own opposite Jack Thompson, Graham Kennedy and Frank Wilson. In the director’s teen classic Puberty Blues, Cassell played the ‘suburban dad’ to perfection as Mr Vickers, father of Nell Schofield’s wild child beach girl Debbie. (pictured, above; Cassell with Beresford on the set of Money Movers)  

The 1980s: SQUIZZY TAYLOR (1982), THE DARK ROOM (1982), FIRE IN THE STONE (1984) and BELINDA (1988)
Cassell worked to greater acclaim on television for the duration of the 1980s including the lead in Special Squad (an Aussie take on tough Brit police thrillers The Sweeney and The Professionals) and a 14 episode arc on Neighbours. His film work from the period was first rate, though often in service of films that saw minor theatrical seasons before their home video shelf life. Most prominent amongst them was Kevin James Dobson’s period crime thriller Squizzy Taylor, starring David Atkins as the 1920s underworld figure and Cassell as Detective Brophy, the hardened cop out to get him. US director Paul Harmon’s solid potboiler The Darkroom afforded Cassell a rare leading man role in a cast that included Anna Maria Monticelli and Rowena Wallace (and a blink-and-miss bit part for a young Baz Luhrmann). Other films in which Cassell made an impression include Howard Rubie’s romantic bush yarn The Settlement, opposite Bill Kerr, John Jarratt and Lorna Lesley; Gary Conway’s young adult adventure romp The Fire in The Stone, most notable for its origins as a novel from Storm Boy author, Colin Thiele; and, Pamela Gibbon’s semi-autobiographical dance drama Belinda (aka, Midnight Dancer), with Cassell comfortable as the anxious father of Deanne Jeff’s showgirl wannabe. (Pictured, above; a screengrab from The Darkroom, featuring Cassell and co-star, Svet Kovich)

THE HONOURABLE WALLY NORMAN (2003) and STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (2004)
In his final screen appearances, Alan Cassell got to play in two broad comedies, a bigscreen genre that had largely passed him by for most of his career. As his persona softened throughout the 90s with warmer and often very funny parts in TV series like The Flying Doctors, SeaChange and The Micallef Program, producers sought out his effortless charm to enliven their would-be crowdpleasers. In The Honourable Wally Norman, veteran comedy director Ted Emery used Cassell as the pivotal character, boozy politician Willy Norman, who misspells his own name and sets Kevin Harrington’s average Joe ‘Wally Norman’ on a course to Canberra. In Dean Murphy’s gay-themed romp Strange Bedfellows, Cassell plays ‘small country town beffudlement’ with warmth and integrity, opposite leads Paul Hogan and Michael Caton.